For all of us who thought indoor air pollution is an urban myth. Well here is an eye opener from WHO.
Around 3 billion people use solid fuels like charcoal, dung, and wood, crop waste to cook and to stay warm. These create high levels of indoor air pollution. In the urban set up we have industrial and traffic exhausts to add to this. The range of health damaging pollutants includes fine particles, construction dust causing bronchial cementosis, and toxic carbon monoxide fumes.
Poor ventilation and smoke in and around the house causes the pollutant level of fine particles to increase. The impacts of these exposures are high in women and young children. WHO claims 4.3 million people die every year from household air pollution. The resultant health hazard as identified by WHO are chronic respiratory conditions like pneumonia, chronic pulmonary obstruction to lung cancer. There have also been studies that have linked indoor pollutants to adverse pregnancy, tuberculosis, upper aero-digestive tract, cervical and other cancers.
Understanding Air Pollution
The imagery of smog, power plant, emissions from cars and trucks are no more outdoors, they have entered our homes. The fear is they are more concentrated indoors, than outdoors. 2.2 million More deaths occur due to indoor pollution than the outdoor pollution. In the global context the pollutant varies in the developed and developing countries. In the Indian context the pollutants vary in the rural and urban context.
In the rural context it is the fuel like wood and charcoal causing harm. The lack of ventilation does not allow the pollutant to escape, residents end up breathing the pollutants like carbon monoxide.
In the urban context the most serious pollutants along with smog, vehicle emission are tobacco smoke and radon. In enclosed workspaces, second hand smoking also plays a role. The count of carcinogens or cancer causing chemicals, round up to 4000. Of course the country cousins of lung cancer like emphysema, asthma, heart disease are all direct effect of the pollutants indoors.
Another wonderful pollutant is the volatile organic compound (VOC) this is accountable for a number of indoor pollutant, and these can be released by pretty much anything we can imagine, the perfume, the paint, the plastic household cleaners, adhesives, furniture, carpet, paper, even the wonder new car smell… these are all the smells of toxic chemicals beings release. Their release is minimal and in an open space it would dissipate, but in a closed indoor environment it has a party.
To this party lets add dust mites, pet dander, mold, mildew and airborne bacteria, hey presto we have the ticking bombs. They may cause no effects, or might affect benignly by triggering allergies or may cause dangerous infectious disease.
Sometimes indoor air pollution causes what is called as a sick building syndrome, where people display health problems that are attributed to spending time in the building, though the exact cause of illness is not identifiable.
Dealing with Indoor air pollution:
- Eliminate the source of pollution, like excessive moisture, dust building, smoking and use of chemical products like paints, detergents etc.
- Increase ventilation.
- Using natural air conditioning this will allow for air circulation some techniques are
- Using ceiling fans
- Installing heat blocker at the window, like a vetevar plant.
- Minimum usage of heat producing appliances.
- Growing plants to provide shade.
- Indoor air filters. In both central air system or the portable air purifiers this helps to remove unwanted contamination from indoor air, but the HEPA filter has to be
- Changed regular to maximize the health benefits.
- Himalayan salt lamps this is a natural ionic air purifier that pulls toxins from the environment and neutralizes it.
- House plants are Mother Nature’s purifiers. Some of the useful ones are
- Butterfly palm
- Lady palm
- Rubber tree
- Cornstalk dracaena
- Golden pathos
- Peace lily
- English Ivy
- Chinese Evergreen
Then are the air filters. Several techniques are used by air filters. An air purifier or air cleaner could use combinations of elements to combat pollutants. These become extremely useful in handling asthmatics and people prone to allergy; it also eliminates second hand tobacco smoke inhalation.
Different Filtration Techniques
- The thermodynamics sterilization, where air passes through a ceramic core with micro-capillaries the ceramic core is heated to 200o C and the incineration results in elimination of 99.9% of microbes, like bacteria, virus, dust mite allergens fungal spores etc. but the particle suspension still remains and the issue of thermal decomposition remains unaddressed.
- UV germicidal irradiation is another option where air passes the UV lamps, air can be circulated past a lamp with fan, the key here is the placement of the lamp, and removal of the dead micro-organism.
- Filter base purification where the airborne particles are forced through a filter and the particles are physically captured by the filter.
- Activated carbon is a porous material that adsorbs volatile chemicals on a molecular basis.
- Polarized media electronic cleaners use active electronically enhanced media to combine elements of electronic and mechanical filters.
- Ionizer purifier’s use charged electrical surface to generate electrically charged air or gas ions, this produces trace amounts of ozone and other oxidants as by products, but all within industrial safety standards.
In India air purifiers have just stepped in. live pure uses the HEPA that is High Efficiency Particulate system. This works on a straight forward filtering system. The filter is based on size exclusion and can eliminate 99.97% of the airborne particles some as tiny as 0.3microns in diameter. The efficacy of this can be optimized by
- Keeping the pets out of certain areas
- Good ventilation.
- Regular vacuuming of the indoor space.
- Have a maintenance schedule for your filter
They offer portable purifiers, room purifiers, and more as the efficacy of the air purifier is area driven find the appropriate model for you, The model and price chart is available here.
- WHO indoor air quality.
- Pubmed indoor air pollution and respiratory embarrassment.